Napoleon Bonehead

It seems odd that a minor noble rides the coattails of the French Revolution into power, and then cloaks himself and his extended family in opulence. The same level of opulence that led to the bloody demise of the Ancien Regime series of French monarchs. Clearly, Napoleon Bonaparte was no George Washington. Uncharacteristically for a monarch – or perhaps only pragmatically – when Louis XVIII ascended the throne (for the second time) after the final exile of Napoleon in 1815, he modestly maintains the new Charter of 1814 (a constitutional monarchy) and keeps his head.

Nevertheless, the “Napoleon: Power and Splendor” exhibition currently at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts presents a powerful, shimmering reflection of imperial wealth, grandeur and French artistic elegance. A few splendid details are shown here.

The beautiful butt of a French carabine (approx. 1806), engraved by (or directed by) Nicolas-Noel Boutet. Boutet served both King Louis XVI and Napoleon as director of the Versailles state weapons factory.
Part of a set of giant altar fixtures crafted for Napoleon’s second wedding (to Marie-Louise). These things are about nine feet tall – the candles on them were probably more than ten feet tall.
Masters of Light… the artist – Hyacinthe Rigaud, and the subject – King Louis XIV, the “Sun King”. Detail from a portrait.
Detail from “Napoleon Presenting the Newborn King of Rome…”
Artist: Jean-Baptiste Isabey, (b. April 11, 1767, Nancy, France — d. April 18, 1855, Paris), specialized in portraits and miniatures. These highly-detailed figures (particularly the face of Napoleon) are only a few inches tall.
Detail from a huge wooden birdcage carved by Chinese artisans while they worked on Napoleon’s final home in exile on remote Saint Helena island.

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